Dispatches > The Buzz

Flash Traffic

Political buzz from Washington

Issue: "Trial and terror," Sept. 1, 2001

Republicans can't afford to lose a single Senate seat next fall, certainly not Jesse Helms's … that's why the White House and the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) are aggressively encouraging Elizabeth Dole to run in her native North Carolina, though she hasn't lived in the state for years. Mrs. Dole-former presidential candidate, Red Cross CEO, and cabinet secretary-polls extremely well in the state and therefore qualifies as what NRSC aides call a "blue-chip candidate" and a "Hillary-caliber recruit." They believe she's conservative-sounding enough to appeal to hard-core Tarheel Republicans, but moderate enough to appeal to the state's independents and Democrats. Also interested in the seat but less attractive to the White House: multi-millionaire and former Senator Lauch Faircloth. Rush Limbaugh recently signed a $250 million deal to stay on radio for much of the next decade … now the king of talk radio is confirming rumors that he is being wooed by the flagging CNN either as an occasional commentator or the host of his own program. Limbaugh long has been a sharp critic of CNN, but he's also always on the lookout to surprise his critics. For now, Limbaugh won't comment on the details of any talks that may be underway, or whether his friend at Fox-Roger Ailes-is making a competitive counteroffer to CNN: "People talk to me frequently about media opportunities and I always listen at the outset to see what they may have in mind," Limbaugh explained. Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist, has created "Policy Initiative Groups" (PIGs) and "Working Issues Groups" (WIGs) chock full of free-market reform policy experts … both will play key roles in the president's fall strategy to control the political agenda. Sources close to the process say Rove's PIGs and WIGs are working on "second-tier" policy items, "little pieces of the puzzle" that build the president's overall image as a "reformer with results." Ideas developed by the PIGs and WIGs will begin to be announced by the White House soon after Labor Day and continue to be unveiled each week until December. What are the criteria given to the PIGs and WIGs? The ideas must be ones Bush likes, Republicans like, and the general public can understand without a long and difficult explanation … extra points for ideas that appeal to Hispanics, African-Americans, and women. Under consideration are at least a dozen types of tort reform, like changing the rules concerning the circumstances under which a class-action suit can be filed … Other ideas involve tax reforms such as changing independent contracting rules so that self-employed Americans won't be routinely harassed by the IRS, changing expensing rules so that companies can expense high-tech investments to modernize and improve productivity, and changing the tax rules so that employees whose stock options collapse in value no longer have to pay taxes on phony gains. Republican leaders have created a new, secret, and high-level "War Council" to craft and sell their budget message this fall. The council-officially known as the Budget Communications Action Team-is made up of senior communications officials from the White House, the Office of Management and Budget, the House and Senate leadership, and various key congressional committee staffs … launched Aug. 16, the council meets daily in the office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert or in one of the other leadership offices. On Aug. 22, the council's "chiefs" briefed more than 100 congressional Republican press secretaries on their first mission: to explain the government's $158 billion surplus might be smaller than expected but is still the "second largest surplus in history," not a threat to Social Security and Medicare. The council also ensured wide distribution of a statement by Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) that the president had signed "a responsible tax cut" … "If anything, it should have been larger and kicked in sooner. The tax cut does not get into the Medicare and Social Security trust funds, as some protest. What would eat into them is hog-wild spending on other items." GOP communications aides will track media coverage of the budget process daily and coordinate rapid responses: One anxious constituent asked Rep. Jim Nussle (R-Iowa), "Where's the surplus?" Nussle had a ready response: "It's in your pocket!"

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Joel C. Rosenberg
Joel C. Rosenberg

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